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UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center

University Partnership Tackles Hepatitis C Risk and Body Art

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Tattooing and piercing are as popular today than ever, especially among young people, yet more than 40 percent of college students mistakenly believe that getting body art is unlikely to pose health risks, researchers from UC Davis and Sacramento State University have found.

Be Smart with Body Art tatoo5The two universities have teamed up to address the lack of awareness with an innovative new multimedia campaign that educates young people about ways to prevent spread of viral hepatitis C when getting tattoos or piercings.   The campaign, begun in California with a news conference, Web site and video, already is garnering interest around the country, and in Canada, and researchers plan to take the effort to university campuses throughout the U.S. over the next several months.

“Be Smart with Body Art” is a project of the UC Davis Cancer Center — Sacramento State University Partnership, in association with young adult cancer survivors and tattoo and piercing professionals.  The campaign aims to raise awareness that body art done improperly can lead to the spread of viral blood diseases such as hepatitis C, a disease that is only successfully treated in about 50 percent of cases.  The campaign also arms young people with five questions to ask the artist before getting a tattoo or piercing.

View the Be Smart with Body Art video:
Be Smart Logo          

“We want to give accurate information about safe tattooing that individuals can use themselves and share with others,” said Marlene von Friederichs-Fitzwater, a faculty member with the UC Davis School of Medicine and Cancer Center.  “The hepatitis C virus can lead to liver disease and liver cancer, and our goal is to prevent new infections by informing young adults of all the ways it can be transmitted.”

Be Smart with Body Art tatoo4According to the researchers, 20 percent of those surveyed reported that they have more than four tattoos, and 43 percent said they were interested in getting their first or additional tattoos.  When asked about body piercing, 39 percent reported having at least one piercing, 12 percent of whom said the piercing took place in a non-professional setting.

Professor Heather Diaz, a Sacramento State health sciences faculty member, added that the campaign does not intend to discourage tattooing and body piercing.  “We just want people to be smart and safe about it,” she said.  “We hope to partner with many professional tattoo artists to help us spread the message to Be Smart with Body Art.”

Students are urged to ask five important questions before getting a tattoo:

  • Do you use only new needles?
  • Do you use new ink caps for each client?
  • Do you sterilize all equipment that may come in contact with blood?
  • Do you wear single-use latex gloves?
  • Do you cover fresh tattoos to prevent infection or hepatitis C virus transmission?

The Be Smart with Body Art campaign already has been endorsed by two major industry associations.

Be Smart with Body Art tatoo1“It’s long overdue,” said Mike Martin, a tattoo artist in San Diego and coordinator for health and education for the Alliance of Professional Tattooists.  “We are professionals, we love our industry, and we want to take care of it.”

The Association of Professional Piercers, a California-based international organization that advocates for safe piercing, also backs the campaign. Citing inconsistent and often lax local health codes related to body art,  the group’s treasurer, Paul King, said, “since there are no standardized statewide codes for body art practices at this time, it is imperative that this preventative health and safety information on hepatitis C is made available to young adults.”

The campaign will include campus activities, community events, radio spots and postings on Facebook, Twitter and My Space.  Additional information on the campaign and a video featuring locals students and their body art is available at

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